Neighbours fear ‘anti-social’ homeless at St Albans centre

St Claire's nursing home on Church Crescent

St Claire's nursing home on Church Crescent - Credit: Archant

A charitable housing association has been warned it is causing “offence, anger and distress” among residents by pursuing a controversial plan to accommodate 17 homeless people in the city centre.

There has been another fiery public meeting on Hightown Praetorian and Churches Housing Association’s bid to convert St Claire’s, a former care home in Church Crescent, into high density temporary accommodation - as first revealed in the Herts Advertiser back in October.

The proposal, yet to be lodged with St Albans district council, is to create 16 bedrooms, one of which would be for a couple, with shared bathrooms at St Claire’s.

But at a meeting in the council chambers last Friday, one woman said she might be forced to sell her home should the scheme come to fruition and that she would be too “scared” to walk past St Claire’s with her children, particularly at night.

Over 100 people attended the meeting which opened with presentations from representatives of both the council’s housing department and the association.

Karen Dragovic, the council’s head of housing, said government guidance stressed that homeless people should be placed close to public transport, shops and other facilities.

Placing them further afield “did not work as well, because of transport issues”.

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But in response, one local resident told the packed room that St Claire’s, located near family homes, schools, Victoria Park, elderly residents and a mental health unit, was not a suitable site.

He claimed: “It’s well documented that a high proportion of those defined as homeless come with anti-social problems that have caused or contributed to their status.

“They could be behavioural, criminal, anti-social or substance misuse, alcohol or drugs – or all of them. In the average group of 17 proposed, there will be a high proportion with one of those problems.

“Don’t put them in a vulnerable [location].”

He said: “It has been a struggle to get this far, to have this meeting, to get anyone to listen, [which] has caused much offence, anger and distress in the local community.”

Cllr Mal Pakenham asked whether Harpenden had similar units.

He was told there are four properties offering temporary accommodation in Harpenden - just one of which was in the town centre.

Hightown chief executive David Bogle said: “Every area has people opposing planning permission.

“If you can find me an area in the district where we would be welcomed by local residents and be guaranteed to get planning permission, we would be very interested in looking at it.”